Tim Kennedy

KENNEDY: Fans Return To Irwindale

LOS ANGELES – Irwindale Speedway welcomed back spectators with pre-purchased tickets Saturday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago.

They witnessed the touring SPEARS Manufacturing divisions and local NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series take to the track. Los Angeles County regulations allowed a third of the maximum seating capacity after April 1. About 1,700 fans watched six hours of racing on the half-mile and third-mile ovals.

All available tickets were sold online a day before the event. The unprecedented gigantic Irwindale Speedway event offered eight divisions and 10 main events as an incentive to entice fans back to the speedway. Drivers raced from 3:30 to 9:37 p.m. with no official intermissions between races.

The second of three scheduled SPEARS events at Irwindale Spedway had all three divisions competing. SPEARS modifieds and pro late models used the third-mile and SPEARS Southwest Tour super late models raced on the progressively-banked half-mile. Five NASCAR series augmented the busy program. Pro late models and a combined spec late model/race truck event used the half-mile. INEX Legends, street stocks and enduro sedans raced on the third-mile.

The SPEARS tripleheader had 65 cars in the pits and NASCAR had 64 vehicles present for a total of 129. There were 29 SPEARS super late models, 20 pro late models and 16 modifieds. NASCAR had 11 pro late models, 14 Legends, nine street stocks, 18 enduros, six spec late models and six trucks.

Drivers came from seven states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. All divisions practiced Friday from 3 to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9:30 p.m. to 12:55 p.m. The SPEARS divisions qualified individually from from 1:25 to 3 p.m. NASCAR divisions used group qualifying with best laps during the 11:15 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. practice sessions used to set race lineups.

Opening ceremonies started at 3:15 p.m. The entire program was televised live by SPEEDSPORT.TV affiliate LowBudget.TV with commentary by Irwindale Speedway announcers Tommy Mason and Jeffrey Best. All races were taped for later telecast by MAVTV. The SPEARS divisions ran as the third, fifth and seventh races.

SPEARS SUPER LATE MODEL 100: The eight fastest qualifiers drew for starting positions and the remaining cars were positioned straight-up by qualifying times. Polestarter Buddy Shepherd, 21, led until mid-race. Fellow Bakersfield resident Derek Thorn, 34, started seventh and was second by lap eight.

He dueled series rookie Shepherd closely to lap 55 when he took the lead. Thorn, a five-time series champion, led to the checkers and won his record 51st victory in the series. He earned $5,000 for his Byron Campbell-owned Camry-bodied No. 43 and scored his sixth Irwindale Speedway victory.

Runner-up Jacob Gomes, the 2015 series champion, started 10th and trailed Thorn by 2.403 seconds. Rookie Kole Raz scored his series best third place, 6.075 seconds back. Christian McGhee started and finished fourth. Cale Kanke placed fifth in his career-best run. Preston Peltier, the Irwindale All-Star Showdown winner Feb. 6, came from the back of the field to sixth after stopping for repairs in the infield work area during a lap-17 red flag. He logged the fastest race lap of 17.638 seconds (102.052 mph).

Fastest qualifier Brandon Farrington, Shepherd, Carlos Vieira and Blaine Rocha completed the top-10 in a 54-minute contest. Thirteen drivers completed all 100 laps and 24 of 28 starters were racing at the finish. Thorn said drivers enjoyed having fans in the grandstand again for the third of 10 scheduled SPEARS races at four western speedways.

SPEARS MODIFIED 75: Travis McCullough, 35, started seventh in his own STR chassis and passed second starter Travis Thirkettle on lap 12 for the lead. He retained the point to the lap 75 checkers. He earned $1,500.

Point leader Jeremy Doss, 24, trailed by 1.225 seconds and collected $1,000. Eddie Secord passed Thirkettle on the white flag lap and edged fellow RCF chassis driver Thirkettle for fourth. Sam Jacks, a 20-year old series rookie from Las Vegas, finished fifth.

SPEARS PRO LATE MODEL 75: Doss, from Northern California, drove his father’s No. 75 Chevrolet following the modified race. He started fifth in a 19-car field and won his third consecutive main in the series. He had to outduel a pair of teenage brothers — the Reif (Las Vegas) and Zampa (Napa, Calif.) younger siblings — for his $3,000 victory. Both sets of brothers raced for their fathers.

Tanner Reif, 15, led the first six laps from the pole. His brother Tyler, 13, led laps seven through 39. Dylan Zampa, 17, joined the three-way battle for the lead. Doss sped from third to first on lap 40 and led to dueling teens to the lap 75 checkers. Reif and Zampa traded second on laps 48, 66-67. Zampa trailed Doss by 1.484 and Tyler Rreif was 2.882 back.

Seth Wise, 16, finished fourth and Logan Zampa, 20, placed fifth. Early leader Tanner Reif faded to eighth. Doss won two of the three Spears mains on Feb. 6 and collected $20,000 that day. He earned $4,000 in his two races Saturday. He said racing in two SPEARS series “makes me a better driver.”

NASCAR winners:

  • Twin 30-lap features on the half-mile went to Ryan Schartau, 18, in event one and to 2020 Irwindale rookie of the year Jake Drew, 21, in event nine.
  • Twin 25-lap enduro overall triumphs in 18-car fields went to Honda Prelude drivers Rodney Argo, an ex-410 sprint car driver, and Ian Rotundo. Four-cylinder sedans had races within races for stock and faster sport divisions with winners in both classes.
  • Craig Rayburn drove his Camaro from seventh to win the street stock 25-lap main after leading 21 laps. All nine starters finished with eight on the lead lap.
  • Christian Bazen, 15, won his first Legends 30-lap main with 13 starters by .206 seconds over newcomer Evan Garvy. Bazen’s replica 1934 Ford coupe ran the fastest lap of 72.690 mph.
  • The 40-lap event with six spec late models and six trucks had five laps added because the tenth race began at 9 p.m., an hour before track curfew. A first lap crash in turn three sidelined two cars. Trucker Andrew Porter and spec late model leader Andy Partridge dueled all the way. Porter won by 1.897 seconds over Partridge. Both drivers earned 50-points for class victories.

The next Irwindale Speedway event on May 8 will be a five-division NASCAR night.

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